Category Archives: News

Open Your Heart, Quiet Your Mind

One of the most challenging symptoms of anxiety and depression, or just managing the chaos of an ordinary day for that matter, are the barrage of thoughts talking and sometimes yelling inside our heads. It may start with an ongoing ‘to do’ list: call so and so, pick up the laundry, change the oil in the car, and on and on.  On it’s own, this can be stress inducing, but when anxiety, depression, or anger intensify, so do the thoughts. If you have ever caught yourself berading yourself with statements like: I’m a failure, I’m hopeless, you don’t do anything right, you’re ugly; then this is for you.

The reality is there are several ways to address that harsh voice within who insists on scolding us with a slew of negative beliefs. I work with my own from two directions. One is to take note of some of the core negative beliefs I hold and consciously choose a more acceptable belief that still feels true. You can refer to the previous blog on Tapping to explore how you might strengthen your ability to embody these beliefs.

A second way, and the focus of this blog, is to take our attention out of the brain and our thoughts and into another part of the body. As a Somaticist, I have spent countless hours exploring the ways my thoughts and emotions shift simply based on where, in my body, I place my attention. You may have found certain schools of thought that provide a body map of our emotions pinpointing where we hold anger, sadness, or joy. These provide a good starting point if you are wanting direction, however I encourage my clients to put the map aside and see for yourself. After years of exploring myself and sitting with others, I’ve come to trust in our own unique experiences. I don’t believe that there is one way that emotions are held within our bodies. I do believe that if you’re willing to explore and practice you may be surprised by what you find and you may just quiet that monkey mind of yours, at least for a few minutes.

The following link, Heart Meditation 2, is for a guided meditation into the space of your heart. You can practice this meditation sitting up or lying down. Set yourself up in a supported position you can hold comfortably for about 10 minutes. Pay attention to how you feel as you begin. Note the pace of your thoughts, your emotions, and any sensations that stand out. You may want a journal or notebook to record your experience, noting again how you feel at the end of the meditation. Are you able to drop into the experience of your heart? Note the pace of your thoughts, your emotions, and any sensations that stand out now. Please know that there is no ‘right’ or expected way to feel at the close of this meditation. The intent is that you soften into your body experience and your emotions, and that will likely look different for each of us. It may also change each time you delve into this meditation.

I love to hear your experiences so please report back! What’s the experience in your heart?

If you’d like to delve deeper into this work I have just opened up an extra day and am accepting new clients. You can come to my San Francisco based office or meet via Skype.

Help Your Body Work For You

Emotional Freedom Technique, or tapping, combines acupressure with the therapeutic use of positive affirmations to calm the nervous system and ease overwhelming emotions. While I haven’t yet discovered the magic wand to heal all of our wounds and fix the challenges we face, I do know that our bodies are equipped to support us. Sometimes, what we need is the right to tool to help us take conscious lead of of how our bodies are working for us.

Here’s the link to an article on Emotional Freedom Therapy describing the technique so you can practice at home.

Feel free to send me questions or come in and we’ll try it together. And when you do try it, let me know how it goes!

Kicking the Anxiety Habit: Attuning to Gratitude

In my previous post I introduced a first step to Kicking the Anxiety Habit with a meditation aimed at bringing ease and calm. When anxiety intensifies, our nervous system kicks into high gear, as if we are in a life threatening situation. There are times when this is, of course, critical, but what we’re focusing on here are those times when our life circumstances are challenging and not life threatening. Times when it would behoove us to think clearly and act consciously, but instead we continue to return to the habit of anxiety. When this is true for you, it is absolutely necessary to develop practices that speak directly to your nervous system, sending a message that you are safe and not in need of a fight, flight, or freeze response. For most of us, kicking the anxiety habit will require a consistent commitment to a practice of ease, working as a constant reminder that you are OK and can slow down and choose how to respond.

The second step to Kicking the Anxiety Habit is attuning to gratitude. This step trains us to transform our thoughts and strengthen inner resources. When caught up in anxiety, our thoughts often spin out of control on themes that don’t serve us. We might continue an argument searching for the perfect words to prove a point or fantasize about worst case scenarios as though they’ve already come to pass. When our thoughts are spinning like this, the physical and emotional symptoms of anxiety can skyrocket.

The good news is that, even though anxiety can seem to be inevitable or out of our control, we have the ability to transform this entire sequence of events. It takes determination and commitment. It is absolutely not easy. And it is doable and transformational. Are you willing?

If so the next step is attuning to gratitude. Just as anxious thoughts will shorten our breath, send our hearts racing, and our muscles into action, thoughts of gratitude cause breath to deepen, hearts to open, and muscles to relax. We instigate feelings of pleasure simply by focusing on gratitude. We know that our thoughts shape our bodies, so this part of the work is about attuning our thoughts towards a relaxed, happy, and courageous body.

When put into words, it seems so simple, yet as so many of us know, the practice of attuning to gratitude can feel terribly difficult. When life is truly challenging and we really don’t know how we’re going to get through challenging circumstances, it may seem like there is nothing there to be grateful for. This is when we have to go for the most simple things. Even in the most challenging times, there are tiny, brief moments of pleasure worthy of gratitude. It might be the comfort felt when a stranger smiles our way, the excitement felt when the perfect parking spot is available in a busy city neighborhood, or the warmth of sunshine on our face after a bout of rain.

One of the most humbling experiences in my life was witnessing women in The Democrat Republic of Congo, living amidst an ongoing war, express gratitude for each other, for their doctors, and for the joy they felt singing and dancing in a community of women. There is the potential of both pain and joy within each of us and this practice is about strengthening the experience of joy. In the next step of this series, I will focus on the reality of our life situations and the mix of emotions that arise. We focus on gratitude first because it is a resource that will allow us to acknowledge more painful feelings without getting stuck.

I want to take a moment to explore what it means to be in a practice of gratitude. What I want for you is to have an experience of surrendering into gratitude in such a way that you feel a change in your body, your emotions shift, and you evoke thoughts that are kind and perhaps even hopeful.

Begin your practice by tuning into your breath. See if you can feel the rise and fall of each breath, slowly deepening inhales and exhales. Then bring to your minds eye a moment you have gratitude for. Put yourself back into that moment. What did you see or hear in that moment? Was there a smell or a taste? How did your body respond? Can you feel your breath, your heart beat, your muscles? And what emotions were evoked? Breath this moment in and exhale it out. Stay with it until you feel yourself soften fully into the moment, and then take another breath. Let it wash over you. Now see if there is another moment you can attune to and repeat the process. Continue until you are complete.

This practice is best when done daily. When we consistently attune to feelings of gratitude, it becomes easier for our thoughts to simply return here of their own accord. I often suggest beginning or ending your day by breathing in your gratitudes. You can simply bring them to your minds eye, you can use a journal, or, one great and free resource is this program that sends the question daily to your email inbox: What are you grateful for? To kick start your practice, go to!

I’m looking forward to hearing your gratitudes! The practice intensifies when it is witnessed so post them here or come in for a face to face somatic session.

Kicking the Anxiety Habit: A Practice of Ease

One of the most prevalent challenges I witness as a Somatic counselor is anxiety. I’ve heard it described as a constant state of urgency, difficulty relaxing, difficulty sleeping, the sense that something bad is about to happen, shortness of breath, a racing heart beat, racing thoughts, jittery muscles, over eating, under eating, stomach pains, headaches and as panic attacks, to name just a few common symptoms. We live in a fast paced world. We hold down jobs, run businesses, and maintain creative projects while trying to nurture relationships, raise children and care for our homes. It’s no wonder that so many of us exhibit and describe the experience of anxiety. Most often, I witness a heartfelt desire to slow down, to savor the beauty of what is had, and yet there is often a lack of knowing, or more truly a forgetting, of how to do just that.

To holistically heal the impacts of anxiety, it’s helpful to explore our individual experiences of it physically, mentally, and emotionally. Each of us is unique, so, the roots of our anxiety differ and we may be attracted to different tools for healing. Fortunately, there are many out there.

In this first blog on anxiety, I’m focusing primarily on a physical exploration. Anxiety lives in the body, so it’s no surprise that one of the best routes towards easing its impacts is through the body. There are a wide variety of physical exercises and meditations out there that are known to have positive effects on easing anxiety and increasing agility and calm. You can learn them by studying yoga, tai chi, or aikido, in a meditation group or by receiving massage. You can practice them with a Somatic Counselor like myself. And you can practice on your own.

What’s most important, if you’re truly ready to kick the habit of worry and fear, is to come with a sense of curiosity and a commitment to practice. If you are ready to live with more ease and courage, then here is one opportunity to develop practices that do just that. Overtime, I will offer a variety of exercises on this site as audio or video. My intent is that this work is an exploration. You get to try out different styles. Some are focused on the breath, on different muscle groups, on the heart and so on. As you go, you begin to find what works best for you and you create your own healing regimen.

This first one is based in the breath and particularly in the lungs. So often, as our days are busy and we are trying so hard to keep up, our breath fills only the top and front part of our lungs in our upper chests. Our lungs are actually a spongy organ that fill up much of the inside of our ribs. At our backs, they meet our scapula bones. They reach down to the diaphragm at about our lowest front ribs. Our lungs hold closely to either side of the heart, as though giving a hug. Use your hands feel around this space. Allow yourself to note the physicality and fullness of your lungs inside your upper torso.

The following link is a 10 minute guided meditation aimed at softening into the backs of our lungs. Find a quiet spot to explore freely.

Kicking the Anxiety Habit 1: Back of the Lungs Breathing

Feel free to leave questions or feedback. And, most of all, may you find a moment of calm.

Spring Blooms!: Find calm and open to possibility

Spring is blooming in San Francisco! The sun is shining, temperatures are warming, and flowers are blossoming. For many of us this comes as a relief after a cold, rainy winter. There is a new sense of possibility as our pores stretch open to soak in the sun and limbs reach out with newfound vitality

And…this transition can also emit a frenetic buzz. If you did not achieve a sense of rest during this Winter’s hibernation or if the transition to Spring happens too quickly, you may experience a period of increased anxiety that impacts your thoughts and permeates your physical being.

If this is the case, you’re not alone. In this season of rebirth when life can be busy and stressful, our work is to deepen our commitment to practices that keep us steady and centered in our beings. When anxiety builds, our nervous system runs on overdrive. Nerves buzz throughout our body. Breath speeds up. Heart rates increase. Muscles become jittery and want to move. Thoughts spin frantically. It can be difficult to sit still and difficult to focus.

To decrease these symptoms and find steadiness we must work directly with our bodies. Each of our unique bodies will respond to the right movement for ourselves, and sometimes differently from day to day, so this work can often be a matter of experimentation. Sometimes, meeting our increased internal pace with cardio vascular activities is helpful. If we match the speedy pace of our breath and hearts by running, or biking, or walking fast, or dancing, or swimming we can often titrate out bodies back down to a slower pace.

Breathing techniques are instrumental in calming the nervous system. My favorite is to practice extended exhale breathing. Start by taking an inhale and counting to 3, then exhale counting to 6. If this is easy, you can increase the count to 4 and 8. Continue this for at least 10 breaths and just notice what happens when you are able to hold your focus.

One of my favorite practices has evolved from my study of Body-Mind Centering and Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen. It’s a Somatic meditation focusing on our skeletal body. Our bone structure forms the blue print of our physical form. The size and shape of our bones and the different ways they connect within joints defines our capacity for movement. Our skeletal body is a map that unveils all potential movement and embodiment. Bringing our consciousness into the bones provides an opportunity to release fears and inhibition and to return simply to this place of potential.

Following are some basic guidelines for this practice. Take as long as you want with each step. Let these be tips for entering your own body and feel free to follow your intuition.

If you are new to this type of practice it can be helpful to practice within a safe container with someone you trust witnessing and guiding. If you’re interested in individual or group work feel free to contact me directly. Individual work can happen both in person or via Skype.

Here’s to a blooming Spring filled with possibility and play!


Embodying the Skeletal Body

(Remember that this practice is simply an exploration into yourself. There is no right way to do it and no expected outcome. Your opportunity is to notice whatever is here and whatever arises. Have a journal near so you can take note of whatever arises. And…Have fun!)

Find a comfortable position where you feel alert and supported in your body.

Begin by taking account of where you are starting from. Some questions to consider are:

* What is the pace of your thoughts? What sort of thoughts are running through your mind? Are they scattered and jumping or are you honing in on something in particular?

* What is the quality of your breath? What is the pace of each breath?

* Can you feel your heart beating within the space of your lungs?

* Do your muscles squeeze to bone? Do they soften into your seat?


* What emotion(s) are most present right now if you’re being totally honest with yourself?


Now bring your attention, your awareness into your bones. It can be helpful to look at the picture of the skeleton, to see the names of the bones and to envision them, each one, alive in your body.


Allow yourself to move from your skeletal body. Notice how your skull stands aloft. Notice how your sternum, your chest lifts. Find the humerus bone in your arms and notice it’s range of movement reaching out from the scapula. Notice how the metacarpals bend at each tiny joint allowing your fingers to reach and stretch and squeeze. Notice the fluidity of your spinal column made up by each vertebrae linked together. Stretch your femur bone in the thigh out from the pelvic bowl. Explore your skeletal body with a sense of awe and curiosity. Move in anyway your are called allowing the movement to begin with the bones of your body.


Use your breath. With each inhale, imagine your bones expanding opening to take in oxygen. Notice their porous nature and allow them to reach and stretch.


What are the sounds that arise from your bones? Can you allow that sound to ripple out with freedom. Does the sound differ from different parts of your skeletal body?


In this place of your skeletal body, when you’re fully settled here, what do you notice? What sensations arise? What thoughts or images or memories drift across your minds eye? What emotions are most present?


When you’re ready to come to a close, take a moment to ground your experience. Bring your attention back into your breath. Allow yourself to feel the fullness of your body beyond your bones. Feel the air on your skin. Take in the sounds and scents and colors around you. Take a moment to note what you have experienced in a journal so that you ground this new knowing into your being, whatever it is.


And, finally, take a moment of gratitude for the consciousness and wisdom held in your bones.

Finding Feeling

In 2000 I left my home on the east coast, headed west and landed in San Francisco. I left behind my career as an organizer in the non-profit sector and began seeking. I realized that I had been feeling numb for a long time and I wanted to feel connected to myself and my emotions, I wanted deeper relationships and I wanted to reclaim my sense of purpose. I quickly found my way to the three practices that have guided me on my personal journey of understanding: yoga, meditation and dance.

Early on I was taught to watch my feelings, feeling being a combination of physical sensations and emotions. Teachers of each modality asked me to notice my feelings, to sense them in my body, to witness them and ultimately to let them go. I was taught that if I do not cling and I do not resist, then the feeling will rise and fall of its own accord. Simple as that. And I was taught that my feelings have the power to transform. If I can allow each feeling to arise without clinging to or resisting, then I will experience deep change in my physical and my emotional worlds. And now, after ten years of avid practice, I can say that, Yes, sometimes it is as simple as that. For example, this morning when I first sat down to write this article, my computer froze, erasing everything I had just written. I was angry. I could feel heat rise to my surface and radiate off my skin. I could feel my muscles tense. And I could feel my breath as the sensation naturally dissipated slowly back to calm. Years ago, I would have clung to tension for hours, still complaining about the experience at dinner or the next day. In my ability to acknowledge that I was angry and to let that anger move I felt free not only to start over, but to experience joy shortly after anger. This practice has absolutely led me to deep transformation.

But what of the emotions that we seem to get stuck in? The ones that do not seem to dissipate on their own? In my own practice and in witnessing others in my work as a somatic therapist, I am aware that some emotions seem to sweep us off our feet and hold us captive. They appear to be a constant, always there just beneath the surface and quick to overtake us. We might be immersed in the thick murky quicksand of hopelessness, or feel the constant burn of irritability, or even the sweet, glassy eyed sensation of love and not ever notice a rise and fall of these feelings. The feeling is somehow cycling through us without a beginning or end. What makes this feeling different and why can’t we let it go?

After all of these years of study I have come to understand that, yes, in fact, there are different types of feelings. There are feelings that have the power to transform us, to literally set us free, while others hold us in their grips and do everything in their power to keep us. And…it was our own doing. We set them up in our own unique ways to ensure our personal survival.

First, there are the Core feelings. These are the natural feelings of joy, anger, fear, shame, and sadness that flow through us. It is the birthright of every human being to experience each of these emotions fully. When we allow them to rise and fall naturally we absolutely feel transformed and more at ease. Second, there are the Defensive feelings. These are feelings that do not transform, but cycle around us. They keep us stuck in their groove and protect us from feeling one or more of our core emotions. At some point in our lives, it became apparent that one or more of those core emotions was not OK to feel.

Imagine you grew up in a family where, every time you expressed your innate feelings of love with words or a hug, you were ruthlessly teased. If, in your family, any physical or verbal show of love was seen as too mushy and not just rejected but made fun of, how might you respond? A natural response could be that you decide that love is dangerous. Every time you note the sensation of warmth in your chest that you associate to love, instead of opening to it and expressing it, you become very afraid and suddenly tense in order to hold that feeling of love back. It really hurts to be made fun of so you begin to do everything in your power to hold love back. Pretty soon, you forget that there ever was a natural core feeling of love and only know that you are often tense and a bit frightened. Now the truth is, that feeling of fear began as a healthy fear. Nobody wants to be made fun of by the people they love. However, as an adult, you may wonder why it is so difficult for you to express love. You may really want to express love, but somehow stop yourself in fear every time.

So, it is true that our feelings have the power to flow and transform us. Allowing this to happen with ease is a process of reclamation and often requires the support of an experienced guide or teacher. Following the previous example, for you to reclaim your ability to feel and express love you will first acknowledge that love feels slightly out of reach. Like I once did, you might notice that you feel a little numb or disconnected. Second, you will recognize your fear as a healthy resource. It has served to protect you even if you notice now that it is not always necessary. Finally, you play with allowing yourself to feel love both physically and emotionally. You will notice the fear that arises and slowly learn to consciously allay that fear. And, for moments at a time, you will begin to feel love along with a sense of freedom and ease in your body.

In the Wake of Tragedy

Today, December 14, 2012, has been weighed down by unthinkable tragedy. A shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. A knife attack at an elementary school in China. It is a reality that is utterly unbearable.

And yet, in a world that could allow such tragedy, how do we go on and how do we respond in a way that begins to create healing change?

These are the questions I have been sitting with today. I don’t believe there is one right answer here, but I do believe there are tools to support us on this path. And I believe that if we commit to them together, new possibilities may arise.

Tragedy such as these evoke trauma responses in many of us. It is easy to react in a fight, flight, or freeze mode. It’s easy to tune out and numb ourselves. Or to busy ourselves with distracting action. It’s most difficult to stay still, to tune in to our bodies and to acknowledge the deep physical and emotional impact on our beings. I believe most strongly that, if more of our population took the time to do this, we might slowly discover our next steps to supporting safe and healthy communities. If we challenge ourselves collectively to bear these unbearable emotions, we will evoke new responses that bring about deeply needed healing and change. This, at least, is my prayer.

With this in mind, here are some possible beginning steps to accepting what is truly unacceptable. Take your time with each step. If it’s helpful, write down your responses, speak them out loud, or share them with a friend or loved one.


Audio of meditation:

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In the wake of tragedy…

• Find a comfortable position and sit still.

• Allow your body to rest in the places where you are supported: feet on the floor, thighs and sit bones sink into the seat.

• Bring attention to your breath. Do not change it. Simply notice your breath as it is right now. Notice how your body receives each inhale and how your body releases each exhale. How full is each breath? How much of your lung capacity is used in these breathes? What is the pace of your breath?

• Bring attention to your body sensations. How do your muscles respond to this tragedy? What are the sensations in your jaw, your shoulders or your hands? What do you feel in your stomach? What is the sensation in your heart?

• Take a moment to acknowledge whatever emotion(s) are present right now. Whether sadness, anger, fear, shame, even happiness. Can you allow yourself to accept and fully feel whatever is true for you right now? If there are tears, allow tears. If there is a roar, allow that roar. If heat rises, feel the heat. If your body shakes and shivers, allow it.

• Notice any urges to act or respond that come now. Can you notice what they are without yet acting? Can you stay still and fully present with whatever physical sensations and emotions arise? Can you do this for 5 minutes? 10 minutes? 30 minutes?

• Bring your attention again to your breath. Notice if your experience of breathing is the same or if there is a change. And simply be with your breath as it is.

a body in the congo

I step into the courtyard of the HEAL Africa hospital in the Democrat Republic of Congo.  To my right are a group of women sitting idly, sewing bracelets, braiding hair, singing and talking in Swahili.  The bracelets are sold for $1 a piece as a way for women to support themselves during their stay here.  Some of the women are here to receive treatment due to the violent acts of sexual abuse they have lived through.  Some of them are the mothers, sisters or daughters of victims and they are here to care for their loved one.   All of them are offered the opportunity to learn to sew through the women’s HEALing Arts program, to take literacy classes and to receive spiritual counseling.  The intent is to develop community, empowering women in a country devoured by war where they are constantly facing the threat of sexual violence.  According to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, an average of 40 women per day are raped in the province of North Kivu where HEAL Africa is located.  Seeing these women smile and talk and sing and sew I am unable to comprehend the reality of their situation.

“Jambo” (hello), I sing out to them.  “Jambo san”, they respond with smiles.  This is the only bit of Swahili I have mastered, yet, for a moment, we are connected by our shared understanding of words.  I continue walking and then hear my name called out in a thick accent, “Loren! Nous chanson!”  I turn to see Arriette, a women of 22 years old who I have befriended during my stay.  She speaks in French, the national language of the D.R. Congo, and she encourages me to join her and the other women in their dormitory where they are singing and dancing together.  Inside we find Kiko, a 20 year old woman who was brought to HEAL Africa a year earlier after being raped by a group of men in her village.  The impact left her with fistula, a debilitating genital injury caused by the violent nature of her rape, that had her incontinent and in terrible pain.  Heal Africa is one of two hospitals in the North Kivu region that offers medical and surgical treatment for fistula.  Many of the women sharing this dormitory are awaiting the surgery Kiko received and are praying for similar results.

Kiko now lives nearby in the city of Goma and has returned while she is on break from the local University so that she can take advantage of the sewing classes taught here.  We met earlier in my month long stay when she learned that I teach yoga.  Although she had never experienced yoga, she knew that it was part physical exercise, part prayer and she wanted to learn.  Although I speak only two words in Swahili and only a little French while she knows very little broken English we have become fast friends.  Over the past weeks we have shared our skills, me teaching yoga poses and breathing exercises, her teaching me to sing prayers in Swahili and to dance.  Today she invites me into the women’s dormitory where eight women are standing in a line between two walls of metal cots singing and dancing in coordinated movements.  They are practicing a prayer they will sing in church the next morning.  There are a couple of women sitting in their beds, unable to stand, but sharing in the song.  Blankets are in disarray and there is the thick and musty scent of twenty women living in small quarters.  I am quickly arranged into their line and I watch for a moment until I catch on and can join in.  The song is a joyous one and as our voices blend together I feel expanded and bright.  After several rounds we collapse on the ground in laughter.  For a moment I forget where I am.  Kiko asks me to teach a song and I share a Hebrew prayer to the Shechina, the Hebrew Goddess or feminine soul of God.  The women join in, making up sounds where they don’t know the Hebrew and we all smile at its completion.  Then they sing a song Kiko has taught me before.  With the help of a translator she explained that “this is the song the women sang to me as I was being wheeled away for my operation.  They surrounded my bed and their voices gave me hope and inspiration”.   Now, as they sing the song together I am reminded of her story and tears come to my eyes.

I traveled to the D.R. Congo with the intention of observing the women’s counseling program here.  As a student of Somatic Psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies I was interested in learning tools for working with women after violent trauma.  I expected there to be challenges.  Without a shared language, it was very difficult to communicate with the counselors or the women living on site.  Often I had the aid of a translator, who was extremely helpful, but could not fully bridge the gap between us.  Larger than the language barrier were our cultural differences.  In the introduction to his book on the genocide in neighboring Rwanda, We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families, Philp Gourevitch described landing in the desert surrounded by the realities of war.  He said that even as he stood staring at the bodies that remained, hearing the stories of his guides, he could not comprehend the reality of what he was seeing.  My experience was much the same.  Even after a month spent at HEAL Africa hearing stories first hand over and over from women like Kiko, even after hearing the challenges faced by the group of counselors on staff and even after seeing with my own eyes the men, women and children entering the hospital grounds desperate for help, I had trouble comprehending the reality of life in the D.R. Congo.  My own experience in San Francisco is such a far cry from this war torn country and that gap is palpable.

The cultural divide was most obvious to me the day I entered the counseling center and began to ask the questions that were on my mind. I wanted to know the process of care once a woman arrived at the hospital.  How did ongoing therapy work?  Was there group therapy?  What is a signifier of health for a woman?  How do they mark improvement or gauge when a woman needs extra attention?  I received answers quickly and curtly.  When a woman arrives at Heal Africa she meets with a counselor to tell her story.  From then on she has the choice to continue meeting with the counselors, but most do not.  The goal of care at HEAL Africa is to empower women with job and language skills while building community.  I learned quickly that the explanation was given in a curt manner due to the distrust and misunderstandings that have evolved between previous Western therapists or students and these Congolese counselors.  I was certainly not the first to arrive with bright ideas for what was needed here and an earnest desire to help.  The response I faced was a mix of: ‘You don’t know us,’ and ‘We’ll believe it when we see it.’  I left our first meeting together feeling a little hopeless and filled with questions.  What did I have to offer in this culture so vastly different from my own?  How did the psychological theories I was studying, theories I imagined could be applied universally, fit in here?

“To date, the study of human development has been based largely on research and theory coming from middle-class communities in Europe and North America.  Such research and theory often have been assumed to generalize to all people.” (Barbara Rogoff, 4).  The research I have studied over the past year and a half never highlighted this African country where war has been a way of life since the 1400’s, where women are ravaged by sexual violence, and where communal needs are valued above that of the individual.  The women at HEAL Africa are not likely to sign up for ongoing counseling or guidance.  It goes against the communal ways that are natural to them. They may never be interested in ongoing counseling, individual or group, but they have much to teach about the process of healing in their particular part of the world.  “Cultural research has aided scholars in examining theories based on observations in European and European American communities for their applicability in other circumstances.  Some of this work has provided crucial counterexamples demonstrating limitations or challenging basic assumptions of a theory that was assumed to apply to all people everywhere” (Rogoff, 7).

Not having such cultural research in front of me to point the way, I understood that, if I was going to make a connection I would need to find what was universal between us and maximize that.  In 1860 the German philosopher and physicist Gustav Theodore Fechner laid the foundation for the new study of psychophysics.  His desire was to understand the link between the physical and psychological worlds (Geurts, 8).  In my desire to build relationships in this new environment, I quickly understood that it was through a shared awareness of bodily stance and movement that we were able to relate emotionally, thus bridging the cultural divide to connect with the women at HEAL Africa.  It was with yoga, breathing, dance and song that Kiko and I first sparked a friendship.  We made a physical connection, which opened the door to our psychological connection.  Those same sensory exercises connected me to the women in the dormitory and later to the counselors working in the hospital.  To understand the experience of these women in their world and how they healed through trauma I needed to first understand their sensory awareness.  “I believe that in a cultural community’s sensorium we find refracted some of the values that they hold so dear that they literally make these themes or these motifs into ‘body’” (Geurts, 10).

On the afternoon of my final day at HEAL Africa ten counselors joined me for several hours.  We stood in a circle, bare feet on soft green lawn, next to the expanse of Lake Kivu under a warm sun.  With the help of a translator I guided the women through a basic breathing exercise and slow, gentle movements.  One at a time, the women stepped in, guiding the exercises I introduced and adding their own.  As our bodies came into synchronistic movement we began to name how we felt: ‘relaxed, lighter, the work of digestion in our bellies, grateful, like laughing, like yelling’.  At the mention of yelling we moved into an exploration of anger in our bodies.  We stomped our feet, shifting our weight from side to side, we threw our arms forward and heaved our breath out.  The result looked much like an African dance but was the natural evolution of our group’s emotion.  After some time we collapsed to the ground, laughter returning.  As our time together was coming to a close I asked the women if they had any questions of if there was something else they wanted to do.  The first to speak was the woman across from me and she said, “I believe that you meditate and I want to try”.  In our last moments together we shared breath and as they finally stood to leave I found dripping out of many eyes, the act of having found the bridge between our physical and psychological realms.

What is crucial in my understanding of this experience, first, is the recognition that healing is greatly influenced by culture.  The women in the dormitory who were not inclined towards talk therapy, instinctively use music, dance and theatrics as ways to tell their shared story.  Together, they release their pain and anger and bring themselves into states of joy and hope.  As a therapist, it would be irresponsible to disregard their own methods by trying to insert more Western modalities.  Instead, there is a great opportunity to learn from their tools, adding intention to the use of music, dance and theater so that differing emotions may be explored, mirrored and released.  Second, is the importance of physical and sensory relating in order for emotional relating to occur.  Different cultures create differing cultural bodies, so the first step in relating is to watch, to examine, and to embody with them.  As our bodies begin to know and trust in each other, then emotional doors of understanding are opened as well.   As my stay in the D.R. Congo was so brief, this work serves as an introduction to my interest in the realm of culture and healing.